PMQs Prime Minsters Questions Commons
Jeremy Corbyn brought up the costs of the hotline issue during PMQs UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The government has been forced into a major U-turn, announcing that the 55p a minute Universal Credit hotline for benefit claimants will be scrapped in favour of a freephone number.

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions David Gauke confirmed that phone lines for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) will be free by the end of the year, following outrage over the costs of up to 55p a minute from a mobile phone and up to 9p a minute from a landline.

The issue was brought up by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons during Prime Minsiter's Questions a week ago.

He said: "Not only are people being driven into poverty but, absurdly, the Universal Credit helpline costs claimants 55p a minute for the privilege of trying to get someone to help them claim what they believe they're entitled to.

"Will the Prime Minister today show some humanity, intervene and make at least the helpline free?"

Theresa May wouldn't be drawn on the cost of the helpline, instead adding: "I do want to get people into work. I want people to get on without government support."

In defence of the costs, the DWP insisted people worried about the cost could ask for a call back from the department.

The DWP have now said they will be getting rid of the 0345 numbers, with the Universal Credit customer telephone lines set to become Freephone in November.

Gauke confirmed: "We know that many people prefer to use online services and the vast majority of claims to Universal Credit are made online.

"Everyone can check their statement and engage with their work coach through their online account and we have free WiFi and computers in all our job centres.

"Our work coaches support anyone who needs extra help with their online account but we want to make the process as burden free as possible, including for people who use our telephone service. That's why we are making all our customer phone lines free to use."

In response, Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "The Conservatives have finally listened to Labour and scrapped the premium phone helpline for claimants, now they need to listen to the calls of charities and councils and back Labour's motion today to immediately pause and fix the roll out of universal credit, before more people are pushed into rent arrears, poverty and homelessness."